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CHAPTER II: the structuee of the state - Wordsworth Donisthorpe, Individualism: A System of Politics 
Individualism: A System of Politics (London: Macmillan and Co., 1889).
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the structuee of the state
THE science of politics and the art of politics are two distinct branches of study, and should he kept so; just as the science of mechanics is a very different matter from the art of engineering. One may be an adept in the science, and yet utterly unskilled in the art—quite unable to apply the conclusions of the science to the art. So also we may be expert at an art, and yet be more ignorant than we should be of the science on which that art is based. For example, many an able mining-engineer is insufficiently acquainted with the truths of geology, while many an experienced geologist is altogether ignorant of the art of mining. At the same time, though it is very desirable to keep the two studies distinct, it is impossible for the practical man to carry on his work to the best advantage without some acquaintance with the underlying speculative science.
Now the science of politics, by whatever name known, is very little studied at the present day by our statesmen. They even affect to despise it. On the other hand men of science, or as they have been styled, “cloistered economists,” are prone to imagine themselves capable of solving all kinds of political problems simply by the aid of scientific research, without any practical experience whatever of the facts and conditions of the situation. Let me give an illustration; sociologists have reached the conclusion that the end towards which civilisation is moving, the goal which it bids fair to attain, is a system of self-government. In other words, self-government is the government of the future, and presumably therefore the best government. But it is for the practical statesman to decide when any particular nation is ripe for the application of the principle.
Few will deny that England has reached this stage of development; but when we look farther afield, when we pass even to India, where the people are indeed in a comparatively high degree of civilisation, we find grave doubts whether they are yet fit to exercise the functions of a self-governing nation. Certain doctrinaires in this country, but quite inexperienced in Indian affairs, are indeed anxious to thrust it upon them, but those who have more practical knowledge of the inhabitants are of a contrary opinion. And even those book-learned but inexperienced young statesmen would shrink from imposing free institutions on such races as the Zulus. We all remember the reception accorded by the Turks to Midhat's paper constitution. It remained a dead letter. Free institutions are no doubt good, but they are good only for peoples who demand them.
If this is true of uncivilised races, of semi-civilised races, and even of races which like the Hindu have reached a fairly high degree of civilisation, it follows that there must have been a time in our own course of development when we also were unripe for free institutions. When was that date passed Again, the same people is ready for one form of freedom before it is ripe for another. A nation is not suddenly transformed from a despotism into a free democracy; it acquires its liberties one by one, and at dates separated by long intervals of time. Hence it is quite conceivable that there are some forms of freedom for which even the English people are not yet prepared. We are therefore compelled to qualify the general and too-sweeping proposition “Self-government is good” to this effect, “Self-government is good for those peoples which are ripe for it,” or in other words, it is good for those for whom it is good. And for whom is it good? To this question the cloistered economist has no answer. It is a question of experience, a question for the practical statesman.
Again, philosophical jurists have detected a distinct tendency in the laws of civilised nations towards individual ownership, in land as in other things. All forms of common ownership operate in restraint of transfer. And this is true not only of tribal and family ownership, but also in a less degree of what is called dual ownership, where the interests of the two parties are diverse. But, although the tendency towards separate ownership is strongly marked, it by no means follows that any particular people is ripe for it. In the case of Ireland, the English land system was thrust upon a nation which had not yet emerged from the stage of tribal ownership, and the effects of the shock have not yet spent themselves. The same thing was done again in Bengal a century ago. Lord Cornwallis's arguments in favour of his scheme of land reform are unimpeachable, the one flaw in them was this: basing his predictions as to the effect of the separate system in Bengal on his experience of the working of that system in his own country, he overlooked the extreme unlikeness between the two peoples. The immediate consequences were injury to the Zemindars, cruelty to the Ryots, and permanent loss of revenue to the Government. And at the present day the question seems to be whether it will not be deemed necessary to modify the arrangement, even at the cost of England's honour (no very high price they say nowadays). Here, again, is a problem for the practical statesman: must we refit the boot to the foot, or leave the foot to grow to the boot? It is merely a question as to how far one or other process has been already in part effected. But the sociologist has said his last word, namely, the highest civilisation will adopt the system of separate or individual ownership.
I have dwelt at some length on the distinction between the art and the science of politics, because we are at the present moment exposed to two dangers—the one is the rule-of-thumb politician, who turns a deaf ear to all the teachings of science; the other is the “professor,” who hastens to apply the inductions of science to cases which do not supply the requisite conditions.
In order to understand political institutions, to track their general tendencies, and to predict their future we must study them from their origin, from the earliest times of which we have any records. The germs of all existing laws and institutions will be found far back in the days when our ancestors were in that stage of civilisation which is called the “patriarchal stage.” In the archaic independent family all our modern complex institutions existed in embryo, just as the little acorn contains within itself all the potentialities of a spreading oak. The earliest form of the State is the family with its internal despotism and its external independence; for it must be remembered that the family was amenable to no law from without. Curiously enough, Austin, writing before any progress had been made in law-history, goes out of his way to refuse the title of political society to a single family. “Let us suppose,” he says, “that a single family of savages lives in absolute estrangement from every other community. And let us suppose that the father, the chief of this insulated family, receives habitual obedience from the mother and children. Now without an application of the terms which would smack of the ridiculous, we could hardly style the society a society political and independent, the imperative father a monarch or sovereign, or the obedient mother and children subjects.” He quotes Montesquieu in support of this view. Antiquarian research has thrown much light on the condition of society in its infancy, and the situation pictured by Austin is now known to have been a very accurate description of the condition of our ancestors. The father was king, priest, and judge, and the whole system was an absolute despotism. The early Hebrew records furnish us with pictures of these little independent nomad families, wandering about over the face of the earth at war with all mankind. It is from this period that the institution of monarchy dates.
But when these families came to group themselves together in clans and tribes for mutual protection and advantage there was a tendency for the heads of the families so compounded to claim an equal voice in the management of the general concerns. Thus resulted what is called an oligarchy, or, in the language of the rulers themselves, an aristocracy. It is true that there are forces at work which for a very long period tend to cause the reins of government to pass into the hands of some member of the ruling body—some man of great force of character or natural superior power. The point to note now is that from the date at which families first began to compound themselves into houses or “gentes,” we have the possibility of aristocratic government. As we have seen, these houses or clans again recompound themselves into tribes, which in process of time aggregate into the larger group called the nation.
A tendency has been observed by historians for the government of the nation to gravitate steadily into the hands of larger and larger numbers of the people, till the ruling body comes to comprise all the individual members of the community. It is not urged that this state has ever yet been reached, but that such is the observable tendency. This tendency has been styled democratic. There are many forces in society operating in a contrary direction, but as social development proceeds, the forces acting in the direction of democracy increasingly prevail. This is a well-based political induction. We are not now concerned with the causes of this tendency—the fact is patent. No doubt the increase of knowledge, and its diffusion among all classes of society, together with increased facilities for communication between the masses and their classes, and the increasing power of organisation, will together have the effect of rendering the rule of the few for the good of the few distasteful to the many, while at the same time supplying the populace with the means of rectifyiug the anomaly.
Having recognised the truth that civilised nations have tended, are tending, and will continue to tend in a democratic direction, let us proceed to ask the question, Is the tendency a good one? Is it a tendency to be desired or merely one to be put up with as a necessary evil? I believe the very best friends of democracy have admitted its inherent weakness and vices. Not to multiply authorities, let me cite one who is universally admitted to have been a staunch Liberal and a true friend of the people. Lord Brougham writes:—‘ The democratic form has some virtues of a high order. The defects, however, are equal to the excellences. The supreme power is placed in wholly irresponsible hands. The tyranny of the multitude is intolerable, because it pervades the whole community searchingly, and oppresses the humblest as well as the highest. Faction is even more predominant than in aristocracies on certain subjects, and always the most important. Anything like free discussion is impossible. The administration of justice is constantly interfered with, especially of criminal justice. There is no security for steady and consistent policy, either in foreign or domestic affairs; a risk of entire and violent change attends the administration and even the constitution; and the peace of the country as well abroad as at home is in perpetual and imminent danger.”
Few will deny that there is at least a considerable amount of truth in this impeachment. The practical question for us all is whether, in spite of its inherent faults, we are to accept the principle of democracy, or to fall back on some system of aristocracy or monarchy, or as Lord Brougham himself advocates, on some mixed system? Seeing that to democracy applies the old proverb, “Too many cooks spoil the broth,” seeing that divided counsels result in delay and sometimes in disaster, seeing that democratic government is wanting in continuity of purpose, is shifty and inconstant, swayed by sudden gusts of popular impulse, and above all, that it embodies the will rather of the ignorant than of the wise: admitting all these charges, shall we in despair look elsewhere for the form of government of the future, or shall we rather seek to discover the several causes of these observed diseases, and if possible the cure?
I hardly feel called upon to furnish illustrations of these observed vices of popular government. Those who care to see them fully exposed may be referred to the late Sir Henry Maine's very able work on the subject. But to take one very recent instance: I do not say that the Conservative Government was wrong some few years ago to commence laying down the Quetta Railway with a view to improving our defences against the threatened Russian advance upon Afghanistan. And I do not here say that the Liberals were wrong to pull it up again; but I do say most emphatically that the country was wrong which permitted such a piece of extravagant fooling as the combination of the two acts. What would be thought of an employer of labour who set one gang of men to dig a hole and another gang to fill it up again? As we should regard this man, so the other civilised countries of Europe probably regard us. And are they not justified?
Instances might be cited in which democracies have gone nigh to committing political suicide, as for example where carried away by temporary enthusiasm or hero-worship they have voluntarily abdicated in favour of a dictator; arming him with sufficient powers to enable him to defy the quickly-repentant will of the people. Both Cicero and Tacitus, who knew something of democratic impulsiveness and instability, have been cited in favour of a mixed form of government: “Statuo esse,” writes the former, “optime constitutam rem-publicam quæ ex tribus generibus illis, regali, optimo et populari, modice confusa.” Similarly Tacitus hints that such a mixed form is almost too good to be hoped for. “Cunctas nationes et urbes, populus aut primores aut siuguli regunt. Delecta ex his et constituta reipublicse forma laudari facilius quam evenire.” We have attained to that laudable constitution, and we ought, therefore, in the opinion of Lord Brougham, to rest and be thankful. Either he fails to see, or he wilfully shuts his eyes to the price that must necessarily be paid for this complex arrangement. In order to perpetuate what he would call our present mixed form of democratic monarchy we must be prepared to stereotype what is left of caste among our people, we must respect hereditary privilege, we must arrest the growing tendency in the direction of civil equality. No; the advantages may be great, but the price is too high for an Englishman.
I have said that the strongest argument of all against pure democracy is the apparent absurdity of putting the reins of government into the hands of the most ignorant classes of the community. Is it expedient, feasible, or even safe to place the inexperienced masses (no fault of theirs) at the helm of the State? Recently we have extended the franchise to the agricultural labourer, and I ask any unprejudiced person whether he is honestly of opinion that Hodge is really qualified to make laws either immediately or vicariously? Would he accept Hodge's ruling on a delicate question of morals? Is he prepared to lend a wistful and a wondering ear to the inspired utterances of the modern Elisha? “Vox populi vox Dei.” Good; but the voice of the people is not necessarily the howl of the numerical majority. Apart from all false sentiment, apart from mob flattery (the maudlin foible of the day), apart from democratic bias, everybody knows, and honest men admit, that Hodge's several views on things in general are not of the most enlightened character. And I for one positively decline to submit passively to his dictation in all the numerous concerns of life which are usually regarded as falling within the province of the law-giver. Let us face this problem fairly and squarely. Not on the one hand by falling back in dismay into the arms of a doomed class despotism, nor on the other hand by falsely attributing to the uneducated or half-educated untold faculties of intuition which in our inmost hearts we know well they do not possess.
The art of legislation is a very difficult and complicated study; much more so than farming or boot-making for example. And yet, as has been remarked with amazement by thinkers of the weight of Socrates, Shakespeare, and Spencer, whereas a lifetime is required for the mastery of the humblest handicrafts, almost any ignorant busybody is credited with intuitively understanding that most intricate art legislation. The sole qualifications of a past master seem to be noisy self-assertion, burning class-envy, and fanatical faith in some social nostrum. Were I to walk into an engine-room and point out to the engineer the intolerable waste of steam entailed by a hole in the boiler, and urge him promptly to stop it, he might turn upon me with some such reply as this: “Sir, that hole is called the safety-valve; if you would bring your mighty brain-power to bear on some subject with which previous study has qualified you to deal, without making an ass of yourself, you might be doing more good to the community and less harm to me. Good morning.” And yet this same engineer will walk into the great legislative laboratory where the complex parts of the machinery of State are forged, and with the serenest self-confidence take off his coat and set to work. What is the explanation of this anomalous state of things?
The functions of the legislator are twofold. Under a democratic system therefore the functions of the citizen are twofold; for every citizen is by hypothesis a legislator. The first is that of making laws; the second is that of safeguarding liberties. These are clearly two different functions. And I am at once prepared to admit and to contend that every citizen is not only morally justified but also morally bound to take his share in legislation so far as this duty of safeguarding his own liberty is concerned. The process of breaking his own fetters is a very different process from that of forging shackles for his neighbours. I am aware that the two are usually confounded and spoken of as though they were one and the same thing. But a very little reflection, is required to see that they are two very different things. It does not need a bootmaker to find out where the shoe pinches: the wearer is competent to do that. It takes a bootmaker to make a boot that will not pinch. Hence every citizen has a clear right to a voice in the legislature, if by that is meant the right to safeguard his own liberty against all law-makers—to see that no law is passed which infringes upon his own rights and liberties. And under a representative system it is the duty of the representative to see that no law is passed which infringes upon the rights of his constituents. That is his duty. Hodge, therefore, has as good a right as any other citizen to watch the course of legislation on his own behalf, and to move for the repeal of any existing law which unduly interferes with his freedom of action. This is surely a very different matter from worrying and harassing other people.
And here is another argument for democracy. The end, aim, and test of all government—such is human nature—is the welfare of the ruling class. All history proves it. Human nature is such that it is absolutely impossible to provide against it. Hence aristocracies always have made laws for the good of the aristocratic class, and only indirectly and mediately for the good of the whole people. When the whole people has the making of the laws, then the test of the laws is necessarily the welfare of the whole people. Bad laws may of course be passed, but they will tend to fall into abeyance and finally to perish. The welfare of the whole people being the object of those who have the making of the laws, a defective system has a tendency to readjust itself. Good institutions will survive; bad institutions will die. By a bad institution is meant bad for the ruling class—the law-making class. And that is the reason why it tends to perish. Little by little those who suffer from it come consciously to see or unconsciously to feel the true cause of the mischief, and to uproot it accordingly; just as our own upper-class rulers have learnt the harmfulness to their own order of many early laws of their own creation, and have, during the last five or six centuries, made great strides in the direction of freedom by removing many State restrictions which impeded their own liberty of action. These reforms have also incidentally benefited the whole people in many instances; but such was not, in truth, the end and cause of reform. As evidence of this it can be shown that that which is good for the aristocratic class is not always good for the people; but that so long as the ruling class actually does benefit by it as a class, so long it will continue to survive. And this constitutes a real danger for the people. A protective duty on corn did undoubtedly benefit the landowners, and its reimposition would undoubtedly benefit them now; and although the repeal of the corn-laws has been an unmixed blessing to the people, we may safely say that it would never have been brought about but for the swamping of the landowning vote by the Reform Act of 1832. The country might have suffered for years, but the stimulus to remove the evil did not exist in the class which then ruled the land.
If this reasoning be sound we have reached the conclusion that the democratic form of government is not only defensible, but also highly desirable, and even essential to social evolution; but the doctrine is subject to this qualification—that the function of the citizen is the safeguarding of his own liberties, and not the manufacture of restraints on the liberty of his fellows.
Each new layer added to the electorate seems to have to learn the lesson do novo that sweet as it is to bully others, it is sweeter still not to be bullied oneself. About thirty years ago the more powerful section of the ruling body had learnt the lesson thoroughly, or nearly so; but since then we have had two extensions of the franchise, and in each case it has become increasingly manifest that the lesson has been unlearnt by the new recruits. This we may regret; but it is a comfort to reflect that they are of the same metal as their predecessors. and will doubtless show an equal aptitude for self-government. They will speedily learn the great lesson of liberty. It is only an abundant faith in the destiny of the race, the fullest confidence in the stuff of which this people is made, and a reasoned conviction of the truth of the democratic principle, that can buoy any honest and thoughtful person up at the present time to help forward the popuar movement. Indeed, some of the proposals emanating from the new contingent are so wild, so dishonest, so silly, and withal so impracticable, that it is no wonder if some of even the faithful begin to waver. Fortunately, in the conflict of opposing interests lies the salvation of liberty. The principle of true Liberalism is, in the words of Mr. Gladstone, “trust in the people, qualified by prudence; the principle of Conservatism is mistrust of the people, qualified by fear.” This is the true spirit of enlightened democratism. It is because of faith in the destiny of our race that we may look without dread on its temporary aberrations. We see that hitherto they have marched steadily forward, not without turnings and even backslidings, it is true, but still, in the long run, forward on the path of progress. Clinging to this faith we may look not with fear but with confidence to the indefinite extension of the franchise, in the belief that whatever may be the temptations held out to them by place-seekers and dishonest demagogues, there is ingrained in the inmost nature of Englishmen an inherited love of justice and a consuming zeal for freedom which, in the long run, must prevail.
There seem to be but three reasons which any one is justified in adducing for not accepting the democratic principle: 1. Because he does not know what is meant by the term. 2. Because he lacks faith in the destiny of his own people. 3. Because he is consciously actuated by class interest, and is a traitor to his country.
There is one warning which all good Democrats must take to heart: Beware of mistaking a sham democracy for a real one. Government by a class is not democracy. Democracy is the government of the people by the people—the whole people. Government by a class, even though that class be the largest class in the country, is not democracy. Indeed it is a question whether the despotism of a large class is not, in many respects, worse than the despotism of a small class or a single individual. It is less amenable to the ordinary resources of revolution. And here it should be pointed out that the doctrine of the Divine Eight of the Majority, or, in secular phraseology, the doctrine of “counting heads to save the trouble of breaking them,” can be carried, and is carried, a great deal too far. There are two principal qualifications of the doctrine which are usually lost sight of. Upon these it is important to lay stress, because modern democratic State socialism is based upon their non-recognition. Firstly the units of society are not equal. Under a system of adult suffrage it is quite conceivable that on a question of family law nearly all the women might be found voting on one side, and nearly all the men on the other. In such a case it is absurd to pretend that counting heads would be a peaceful substitute for fighting it out. Similarly at the present day, in all democratic countries under a very extended franchise, apart from sentiment, ten rich men count for more, as a fact, than a thousand wage-receivers. It is merely a foolish fiction to pretend that the majority vote is a test of the will of the people; because the will of a people (like the will of an individual animal) is the resultant of forces operating in various directions. That which the doctrine presumes we want to ascertain is, What would be the result if each question were fought out? And the answer is certainly not always to be found by counting heads pro and con.
The second flaw in the doctrine is the false assumption that ever one is prepared to fight for that which he desires to obtain-that the desire is uniformly urgent. This is not true. A big dog will seldom attack a little dog in possession of a bone. He desires the bone. So does the little dog. But their motives are not equally urgent. In a state of unorganised anarchy—anarchy as it is pictured by those who do not understand it—if two unequally-matched men meet over a prize coveted by both, they do not, as a fact, take each other's measure and decide the question accordingly. The stronger man may be actuated by a weaker desire. He may be less hungry or more averse to trouble and pain. And in any case it is probably, on the average, the best economy from his own point of view to buy off the weaker man by making a division of the prize—not necessarily an equal division, but one satisfactory to the weaker man in view of his inferiority. To apply this consideration to practical politics it may be true that the majority in this country are favourable, say, to universal vaccination. It does not follow that a compulsory law embodies the will of the people, because every man who is opposed to that law is at least ten times more anxious to gain his end than his adversaries are to gain theirs. He is ready to make far greater sacrifices to attain it. One man rather wishes for what he regards as a slight sanitary safeguard; the other is determined not to submit to a gross violation of his liberty. How differently the two are actuated! One man is willing to pay a farthing in the pound for a desirable object; the other is ready to risk property, and perhaps life, to defeat that object. In such cases as this it is sheer folly to pretend that counting heads is a fair indication of the forces behind.
Majorities for their own sakes would do well not to bring the minorities to bay. The result may be either painful or humiliating—painful, as when the minority (in heads, in riches, and in organisation) withstood the tyranny of the Stuarts; humiliating, as when England bowed down before the determined Boers of the Transvaal. It is not wise to threaten what you do not mean to perform. Minorities mean action; majorities, as a rule, do not.
Having reached the conclusion that all history shows an increasing tendency towards a democratic form of government, and, moreover, that democracy is not only inevitable but desirable in all respects, we come now to consider by what means the government of the people can be best effected.
To begin with, all those who have a voice in the legislature can assemble in some large and convenient place, and there and then discuss and settle the affairs of State. This was the case in ancient Athens, where, at times of great excitement, the Ecclesia convened in the Agora would number many thousands of voters. The sense of the meeting was taken by a show of hands, and as might be expected, even in so small a state as Athens, the proceedings were often of a noisy and tumultuous description. Another great disadvantage of the arrangement was that, when only ordinary affairs of State had to be transacted, and no burning questions were to the front, there seems to have been great difficulty in getting together the requisite quorum of five or six thousand persons. Every citizen (male) over twenty years of age and unconvicted of any serious offence, having a right to a seat, so to speak, in Parliament, there was no particular dignity associated with the function, and it was found necessary not only to pay the members a small sum for each separate attendance, but also to fine those who absented themselves. We have in England a functionary called the party whip, whose business it is to make a good muster of his party when any measure of importance is before the House; but in Athens the whips were not metaphorically so called. Certain public slaves sallied forth armed with ropes previously steeped in cold vermilion, and any stray members encountered were gently rope-ended, and so branded with red, like sheep, as evidence against them.
Again, the duties of the Eeclesia were not only very wide, but also very indefinite, and instead of becoming more and more specialised, the functions undertaken by it seem to have grown increasingly multifarious as the power of the aristocratic body dwindled away. Of the Boule, of the Areiopagus, of the Ephetæ, etc., it is not necessary here to speak in detail, it is enough to say that they were not bodies expressly created by the all-powerful popular body for the purpose of helping and checking and otherwise conducing to the smooth working of that central body, like the Senate of the United States of America, or the Privy Council of this country; on the contrary, they dated from further back than the democratic regime, and like our House of Lords they were found ready-made, and were used for purposes for which they were neither intended nor fitted.
Nearly everything of a general character which has been said of the Athenian Eeclesia is true mutatis mvtandis of the Roman Comitia Curiata. Whatever may have been the original nature of the Comitia, howsoever the vote may have been taken in its earlier days; whether each paterfamilias counted for one, or whether each gens or each curia counted for one, and the heads of families voted within their own curia as to what should be the vote of that curia-all these questions though interesting, do not concern us here—the point is that the Comitia was the assembly of the populus, and that the individual citizens took a direct part in its deliberations. The struggle between the democracy and the oligarchy is, in plain words, the struggle for a voice in the government between the adult males in the State on the one hand, and the heads of the clans of which the State is composed on the other. The heads of houses would naturally resist the growing tendency of democracy to disintegrate the family and to reintegrate its constituents as units in a homogeneous state. Of course those in whom the authority of the Curia was originally vested would see their interest in resisting this tendency. The grandfathers, the elders, the venerable “fogies,” who composed the Senate of Home, the Boule of Athens, and the Gerusia of Sparta, would lean towards the old law rather than the new, and consequently their power would tend to pass from them and be arrogated by the popular and progressive body.
But even Rome, though considerably larger than Athens, was small in comparison with any modern self-governing state; strata of the population are now included among the citizens which were then taken no account of, and if, even in those days, the processes of legislation were unwieldy and discontinuous, what would they be now if our five millions of voters had to be convened for the transaction of public business? This has been the problem for modern Europe to solve. Either the size of independent states must be kept down within very narrow limits, or the poorer strata of the population must be disfranchised, or else some other system of self-government must be invented.
First, there has been suggested and tried, that modern imitation of the plebiscitum so far adapted to modern requirements as to admit of the local publication and discussion of the question before the country, and the taking of the general opinion piecemeal in the several localities. This system was adopted by the late Emperor of the French. But this very illustration brings to light a great danger in the process. To avoid the constant friction and expense of polling the constituencies, the plan readily suggests itself of putting the question to be decided in a very general form. Instead of asking the people, “Will you have this law? ” and then a few days after, “Will you have this? ” what can be simpler than to ask them once for all, “Will you have any law which I, the head of the Executive, may propose, till further notice? ” The thing is done: the further notice never comes; it is nobody's business to take the opinion of the people; the head of the Executive knows better than to risk his position; and from an independent democracy, we have suddenly converted the Government into an absolute autocracy.
A less dangerous plan has been proposed and tried (with some success at the present day in Switzerland). It is known as the Referendum! The main objection to the Referendum, apart from the friction and expense, is the principle implied, to the effect that every citizen is capable, without any previous instruction, not only of knowing where bad legislation pinches him, but also what sort of legislation is good for other classes besides his own. This is in itself a fatal objection to the plan.
The only other method which presents itself is that known as “representative government.” The whole machinery of representation is a complex growth, and by no means so simple an arrangement as some might be disposed to think. The germ of the idea lies in the system of voting by proxy. A busy man in a distant province is unable to find time or money to journey up to the metropolis to take part in the national deliberations; but a rich and leisured man of his neighbourhood is going up, and he empowers him to vote for both. Others hear of the arrangement, and being anxious to record their votes but unable to afford it, they also club together in batches according to their political views and send up one man to represent each batch. Representative government is a comparatively modern invention, for it is a mistake to suppose that the so-called delegates sent up to the Amphictyonic Councils to represent the tribes were, properly speaking, delegates at all. They attended in their own light, like the members of our House of Lords, as heads of the senior family or gens of the tribe.
The principle of legislation by proxy having once obtained recognition, a regular system for carrying out the arrangement would soon establish itself. And here we have the germ of the assembly of popular representatives in which each citizen, as such, counts for one, apart from all tribal considerations. The simplicity of the system and the greatly-reduced friction of the governmental machine would naturally have the effect, and, as a matter of history, did have the effect, of stimulating legislation. It would tend, and did tend, to become more searching, more detailed, and far more complex. The qualifications of the representative would be higher. It would require a man of more than the average culture to master the existing law, and to draw the line between the mere defence of the liberties of his constituents and the imposition of restraints on other members of the community. Hence the custom naturally arose of electing a deputy to go up to Parliament, not only to speak but also to think for those whom he represented. Where the line should be drawn is still an unsolved problem. The principles by which we must decide where the liberty of one man becomes tyranny over another man have nowhere yet been clearly formulated. It is sufficient here to show that the difficulty would be early felt, and the effect would be the election of representatives empowered to think and act for those who sent them, and not to serve merely as mouthpieces or messengers. This discovery, and the complicated representative institutions erected upon it in all modern democratic states, must never be lost sight of in proposals for reform and further advance on the democratic path. It is for-getfuluess of this principle which explains the favour with which the Referendum is regarded in certain quarters where anything like sympathy with class rule would have been least looked for.
Perhaps the foregoing considerations will enable us to lay down with confidence certain principles (or what Brougham called “canons ”1 ) of representative government.
1. The first principle I would submit is that the vote is a right and not a trust. Every man has a right, a moral right, to see that his own liberty is not infringed upon by his neighbours under the pretence of safeguarding their liberties. Any attempt of the sort he is morally justified in resisting by force if necessary. He is not bound to submit by any contract, actual or tacit, or otherwise than by fear of the brute force of those who are opposed to him. The bearing of this principle on the question of bribery and corruption is interesting, but this is not the place to discuss it.
2. By logical implication the suffrage must be universal, and here let me recall what I have already said; namely, that although science may and does point to this consummation as the end and goal towards which we are tending, it by no means necessarily follows that this or any other nation is ripe for it at the present time. This is a question for the practical statesman. My own opinion for what it is worth is, that we are in this country ready for universal suffrage, male and female. Nay more, I fail to see why even the paupers should be denied this right. Have they not a claim to see that their liberties, microscopic though they may be, are not trampled upon ? Either they have no right to State support, or they have a clear right to see that what State support they receive is not less than that which they have a legal claim to.
3. Thirdly, we are driven to the conclusion that no qualifications can be required either of the voter or of the deputy. It used to be contended that the property qualification was a guarantee that respectable persons should be returned to the House of Commons. But in the first place, property and respectability do not necessarily go together; secondly, it is a simple matter and was a common practice to convey property to the candidate before the election and to have it reconveyed immediately after he had taken his seat, so that the supposed security was a farce; and thirdly, there seems to be no particular reason why a parliamentary representative should be what is called respectable, so long as he is chosen and trusted by his fellow-men to watch over their interests in the legislature.
4. This brings us to the fourth “canon ”: for if one class of persons in the community has no right to prescribe rules for another class as to what manner of representative they must elect, it follows that Parliament itself should not be permitted through the vote of the majority to exclude any duly-elected member who has been returned by an independent constituency. The admission of such a claim on the part of the majority is out of harmony with all the principles of democracy, and is nothing less than class despotism.
5. The fifth principle which I will submit has already been touched upon. Though essential to the sound working of democratic institutions, it is not likely just now to meet with very general approval. It is, that a parliamentary deputy must be a representative, and not a mere delegate. Let me distinctly define my position: I admit the right of the constituency to control the acts of its deputy in all things down to the minutest particulars, hut I dispute the wisdom; and I denounce the practice as calculated to impair the process of legislation. I have a perfect right to choose my own boot maker, and, if I think proper, to stand over him and dictate the mode of his working; but 1 should be a fool for my pains. Similarly if I want some one to look after my interests in Parliament, I am justified in choosing my man for the purpose, and I shall show my sense in choosing some one who has knowledge and experience of that kind of work: but having chosen him, I must send him unpledged, unfettered, and free to adopt such methods as he may think fit. By all means let me ask him questions and sound him on all points of interest to me; let me thoroughly cross-examine him and “heckle ” him; let me choose the candidate most in accord with my own views, but having taken these precautions let me send to Parliament not a telephone but a man.
6. The next principle is even more important than the last. The end and object of parliamentary institutions is, as we have seen, the representation of the various and conflicting interests in the country. Suppose we desired to learn the general wishes of the animal kingdom, we should ask each species to send a representative, or perhaps a proportionate number of representatives; we certainly should not map the surface of the earth out in parallelograms, and get a representative from each parallelogram. Indeed, there is practically nothing whatever in common between the inhabitants of a given area. The consequence of territorial representation is similar to that of multiple election; interests are hardly are presented at all. Each deputy is a sort of miniature parliament in himself; a colourless, insipid, fasciculus of negations without a definite program, or even a definite idea. To begin with, as we all know, the aim of a candidate is to say as little as he possibly can before the election, for fear of giving offence to one or other of the groups in his constituency. If he says a word in favour of temperance, the licensed victuallers look askance at him; if he ventures to suggest that a poor man has as good a right to his Sunday pint as a rich man to his Sunday bottle of port, the teetotallers gather together and talk ominously about the sons of Belial. If he dares to say more about the State church than that the question has not yet come within the domain of practical politics, a thousand tongues are instantly set in motion about the godlessness of advanced politicians. That an enemy can do more harm than a friend can do good, is well known by all who are conversant with electioneering; and the consequence is that every candidate confines himself as much as possible to the merest generalities. He is going to do something great, but no one can learn exactly what; he is in favour of everything which is calculated to benefit the people; he has the interests of his constituents at heart; and so forth. It is impossible to declare his opinions boldly and frankly.
Such are some of the effects of the representation of areas. Its results are plainly visible in the invertebrate condition of the present House of Commons. The remedy for this state of things is the alternative system of the representation of interests, or what is usually described as the representation of minorities, though that is only an incidental advantage of its adoption. No matter how small a minority may be, it can, under this system of representation, secure a voice in the management of national affairs, provided that scattered all over the country it can count enough votes to obtain a single seat. The number requisite for this purpose is of course the quotient obtained by dividing the whole number of the electorate by the number of seats in the people's house. It is hardly needful to point out how many important interests are at the present moment utterly disfranchised owing to the accidental fact of their not being huddled together within a circumscribed district. The retirement of Mr. Leonard Courtney from the Government of which he was a member because of the strength of his convictions on this point will not be lost upon his countrymen. The sixth canon, then, is that interests must be directly represented in Parliament, and not mere geographical areas.
7. The next point to be referred to was one of the points of the Charter. All the other points except short Parliaments have already been carried; it relates to the payment of members. It is really difficult to see why one class of work is not as much entitled to remuneration as any other class of work, provided it is useful work. I do not say that in many cases it is worth paying for. If it is worth having, it is worth paying for. I know we have many members of Parliament whose services would be dear at any figure that has ever been suggested as a reasonable salary. And this throws some light on the further question, Out of what fund should the remuneration come?
The objections to payment at all are-first, that it would lower the tone of the House to pay the members; secondly, that it is never wise to pay for that which can be had for nothing, however useful it may be as in the case of air and water, for example. Xow, the reply to the first objection is that we do not want “tone” in Parliament, we want representation. The reply to the second objection is, though it is true that we get members of Parliament for nothing, what sort of members do we get? Out of over six hundred and fifty persons in the House of Commons how many represent any class or interest, except the uninteresting class which i nervously ambitious to obtain a seat in Parliament and to keep it? Can honesty, sincerity, and courage be expected of such men?
From what fund, then, must remuneration come? There are three possible sources. From the rates? But as a ratepayer it would be very much against my grain to be forced to contribute towards the support of one who did not represent my views; in other words, to pay for the privilege of being misrepresented. If my own candidate got in I should not object; but there must always be a minority, and it is surely hard upon the minority to compel it to join in the maintenance of one who may be working against their interests.
It is also suggested that payment should be made out of the public treasury. Well, the difficulty here would be to assess the value of the services of the several members; it would certainly be absurdly unfair to pay them all equally. To pay the same sum to an old, experienced, and tried statesman, and to a fledgling squire fresh from college, whose sole claim to the confidence of the constituency is his father's wealth and local standing, would be about as sensible a proceeding as to pay equal sums to the skilled cabinetmaker and the joiner's apprentice. The notion is preposterous and ridiculous. And yet if members are to be paid out of the public treasury it will be necessary to strike an average and pay them all alike, about £300 a year, as has been proposed. The services of some members may be worth some £3000 a year, and the services of others less than threepence.
The third alternative is that each member should be paid by his own constituents; those who want him should pay for him, and those who do not want him should be allowed to make a better use of their money. There are two objections to this course: the first is that it would be necessary to ascertain who are his constituents; and in order to know this it would be necessary to repeal the Ballot Act. We shall come to that presently. The second is that the system would be tantamount to a tax on the franchise. But this is more in appearance than in reality. Payment on either of the other two systems amounts to the same thing, except that in these cases the tax is compulsory instead of voluntary. Moreover, if it is worth a voter's while to have his interests looked to in Parliament, he must expect to have to pay something for it. The work costs money, and cannot really be got for nothing; and who so fit a person to pay for it as the person who reaps the benefit of it? The last method therefore, namely, payment of members by their constituents, seems to be open to the fewest or the least objections.
8. Let us revert to the question of the Ballot. This again is a question for the practical statesman. Personally I am strongly in favour of abolishing secret voting as soon as we are ripe for open voting; as soon, that is to say, as every voter feels independent, and ceases to stand in dread of undue indirect influence. When practical statesmen see that this condition is reached, the sooner the Ballot is done away with the better. It is a standing admission of serfdom. It is notorious that when the Act was passed the Ballot for its own sake had not a single friend; not one who did not admit that it was good only as a temporary expedient—the lesser of two evils; and only to be tolerated so long as unfair influence was exercised over a certain class of the voters. Both Mill and Brougham were strongly opposed to it. Surely it is important that every man should have the right not only of exercising the franchise, but also of doing so openly; he should not be deprived of the pleasure and pride of expressing his convictions, of stating on which side he is voting and the grounds of his vote, without the fear of any evil consequences before his eyes. Truth is infectious. And perhaps the best that can be said for the Ballot (except as a temporary expedient) is in the words of Cicero, that it gives men an open countenance, while it cloaks their minds.1 The eighth rule of representative government is that voting should be open and above board.
9. The duration of Parliaments should be natural and not artificial. The old Chartist cry for short Parliaments is no longer heard, because we have arrived at a stage at which we see that no arbitrary limitation of the length of their duration is called for. We have the seven years' rule; but as a matter of fact no Parliaments ever succeed in living out that spell. They die a natural death, I suppose, about every five years. In America they have a presidential election every four years; whereas here in England we change our President (our Prime Minister) practically every five years; the change being brought about naturally instead of artificially. Under the sound system of the democracy of the future, no doubt a Parliament will die a natural death as soon as it ceases to represent the feeling of the country.
10. One of the strongest arguments against democratic government is that drawn from the delay due to divided counsels. If in trade, for example, all the shareholders of a joint-stock company had to be consulted before the board of directors or the managing director could accept an offer or complete a purchase, the whole state of the market would have changed and the transaction would be almost impracticable. So the difficulty and delay in settling urgent matters of foreign policy in a Parliament of over a thousand members are wellnigh insuperable; the system is suicidal; and even modified as it now is, it places England at a great disadvantage with respect to autocratically governed states like Russia and Germany. Whether foreign policy could not be altogether removed from the domain of party, is a question deserving of all the consideration that can be bestowed upon it; how far such matters might be left to a permanent mixed Committee is a question for practical statesmen; but whatever the course eventually adopted may be, it is certain that the democracy must learn the lesson taught in the industrial arena, namely, the need for an independent Executive. I am not going to discuss the interpretation to be put upon the existing law by which the prerogative of the Executive is supposed to be limited in this country; I am merely insisting on the absolute necessity for specialised administration. The Executive must have full power to declare war, and perform many other important functions without first appealing to Parliament. The function must be delegated; but the delegate must be temporarily independent. Freedom to take the initiative, with an obligation to obtain indemnity afterwards, will create a sufficient ministerial responsibility.
11. It has been admitted that the democracy is impulsive; this also must be counteracted. All free peoples have spontaneously provided for the mature deliberation of important and disputed questions of State. Even in our Courts of Justice we find it necessary to guard against haste and insufficient examination of the question at issue. We have Courts of Appeal. So all free peoples have furnished themselves with a Second Chamber which has certain powers of veto on the proposals of the First. Even within the last few years we have seen a sudden wave of popular impulse which went nigh to sending our armies to the Crimea again. A year later, and those who had identified themselves with this impulse were swept from office. I am not contending that we have to thank the House of Lords for this, or for averting any other evil consequences of popular impulse. Neither do I deny that it may have done some good in this way. All I am contending for is, that there should be a Second Chamber which should have the power of appealing from the First Chamber to the people, the verdict of the General Election to be of course final. Much evil would thereby be averted, and the only possible harm which could come of it would be the delay of a few months in passing some useful and popular measure. We must not forget that with a Second Chamber properly constituted there would be as great a likelihood of the action of the “senators ” being in accord with the feeling of the people as of the reverse. We must not confound the principle of a Second Chamber with the admission of the hereditary principle. Let me again insist that there is no particular need for hurry. The change is coming of its own accord without any call for violence or discontinuity. It is a question for the practical statesman to say what gradual reforms in the constitution of the House of Lords are required in order to convert it into a suitable legislative court of reflection, deliberation, and possibly delay: but by no means of obstruction.
12. The last canon upon which I propose to lay stress, is that democratic government should be worked on the system of Party. Party government is the key to steady democratic progress. In our Courts of Justice we find it is not enough to have a thoroughly pure and indefatigable judge to sit down, consider the evidence, and adjudicate accordingly. That is not found to be the best system. There is counsel lor the one side and counsel for the other. In the heat of the forensic duel many truths are elicited, many arguments adduced, which would be overlooked by the impartial judge; and the result is a nearer approximation to justice than would otherwise accrue. The same rule holds good in Parliament. One party is counsel for the one side, the other party is counsel for the other side, and the country has to judge between them. In the heat of party strife not a stone is left unturned, not an argument lost sight of, by which the country is enabled to decide the issue.
But there is one condition essential to the safe working of the party system, and that is that the principle upon which the two parties are divided, the distinction upon which the classification is based, must be the deepest and most general principle underlying all the chief political questions of the hour. For instance, when the great question of the day was whether the government of the country should be carried on by the many or the few, when all minor measures were considered from the point of view of the effect they would have in puttingpower into the hands of the people;—in those days Parliament and the country were properly divided into two parties called Tories and Liberals, of which one consistently advocated all measures tending to consolidate the power in the hands of the upper classes, and the other as naturally worked and voted in the opposite direction. At the present day there is no question of the kind before the country. It has been settled long ago. As a political power, Toryism is utterly extinct. So also the occupation of the old Liberal party is gone. And yet the shells remain in which men aggregate, and the aggregates dub themselves Tories and Liberals. There is no vitality in them. The only points which members of a party nowadays have in common are a party name, personal attachments, and in some cases an old political tradition handed down from an age when the party cry was something more than a shibboleth.
The question of to-day is, What ought the Government to do ? and the flabby and unwholesome condition of public opinion on the subject is due to the fact that the opposite views on this important point are not represented as they should be by two great parties in the State. Whatever the form of the Government may be, the question still remains to be answered, What are its duties? Are we to adopt Socialism? or are we to adopt Individualism? Statesmen must class themselves in accordance with their answer to this question.
If we will but bear these twelve rules or canons of representative government in mind, we shall, I think, find ourselves in a position to rebut any of the arguments usually adduced against a democratic form of government, although at first sight they are, I admit, sufficiently formidable.
I confess I am not in love with the word “canons.” It savours too much to my mind of blind dogma, of rules based on authority rather than reason.
“Grata populo est Tabella, quæ frontes aperit hominum, mentes tegit, dat-que earn libertatem ut quid volrnit faciant.”